MELBOURNE (Reuters) - While his team mates withered in the glare of the Boxing Day spotlight, master batsman Kumar Sangakkara was the one beacon among the overwhelming gloom for Sri Lanka at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The 35-year-old became only the 11th cricketer to surpass 10,000 runs in his fighting 58 against Australia on Wednesday but had little time to celebrate with his batting partners, who surrendered meekly on the opening day of the second test.
The ICC cricketer of the year unleashed a sublime array of shots, blasting imperious cover drives to the fence and straight past the bowler before skying a catch to wicketkeeper Matthew Wade off the bowling of Mitchell Johnson.
That snuffed out the tourists’ hopes of a face-saving tally as Sri Lanka were bowled out for a measly 156 runs before tea but Sangakkara at least provided a three-hour feast for more than 67,000 festive spectators at the MCG.
“I think everybody watching thoroughly enjoyed the elegance of the player,” Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford told reporters.
”He really is something special when he plays like that. And to achieve what he has achieved is absolutely amazing, so for us, although it was a disappointing day in many ways, that brought a lot of joy to the lads.
“He’s very popular in the dressing room and to see him achieve that, everybody’s absolutely delighted.”
Sangakkara aside, Ford had precious few plaudits for the rest of the team, who he said may have suffered stage fright in their first Boxing Day test in 17 years.
Chasing their first test victory in Australia, they now stare down the barrel of a 2-0 series deficit before the third and final match gets underway in Sydney on January 3.
Although he defended his team, the South African coach offered no excuses.
“There was a bit of indecision as to what to defend, what to attack and what to leave,” he said.
”It’s quite difficult to decide what has caused that but some of it could be as a result of it being such a big occasion and something that the boys have been looking forward to for such a long time.
”I think the desire to do well is extremely high, which at times can create a little bit of extra pressure.
“(The pitch) played pretty much as we thought it would � It certainly wasn’t a huge bowler-friendly surface, it was a good, fair surface, I thought.”
The Sri Lankan attack, rated harshly by former Australia seamer Rodney Hogg as the worst to visit Australian shores, bowled poorly to David Warner and Ed Cowan in allowing them to compile an opening stand of 95.
They improved after the drinks break in the final session, but were lucky to have Warner swipe a catch in front of the rope and Phillip Hughes run himself out cheaply.
They face a Herculean task to restrict the hosts on day two, with in-form Australia captain Michael Clarke and Shane Watson resuming on 150-3 on a pitch likely to offer little for the bowlers as the day progresses.
“Unfortunately, we’ve spoken quite a bit about the importance of the first innings and how we need to post a big score, unfortunately some of our decision making wasn’t as clear and precise as it should be as a batting group,” Ford said.
“Tomorrow morning’s first session is going to be extremely vital that we get in and bowl well and hopefully strike early.” (Editing by John O‘Brien)